"You're my ATM PIN code!" blurts out one fan as she reaches the head of the line where Emily Giffin is signing copies of her latest novel, First Comes Love.
We are in the Nashville boutique Draper James at a meet and greet that's a part of the successful "Girls' Night Out" series Random House has launched to introduce (primarily, if not mandatorily) female readers to popular writers while simultaneously providing a chance for socializing and, depending on the venue, perhaps some shopping or a manicure. In the past few weeks, between more traditional readings and signings, Emily Giffin has attended a two-day Girls' Getaway Weekend in Charleston complete with Red Door spa events. Tonight's girls' night is sold out.
Draper James is the brainchild of Nashville native daughter Reese Witherspoon. It is a fantasia of southern femininity. "Life needs more sweet tea and sunshine," reads a hand-lettered (or, at least, hand-lettered-ish) sign on the blue-and-white papered wall outside the bathroom. "Southern-girl wardrobe essentials," reads another. "Classic blue gingham shirt, Draper James logo, jean jacket, white denim, cowboy boots, red lipstick."
The shop is a riot of color: buttercup-yellow florals, rampant blue gingham. There are coordinating dog leashes, magnolia-filled glass paperweights, monogrammed luggage tags, floral-print iPhone cases, and orange-blossom-scented candles that waft their perfume through the white-painted room. There are julep cups. To a materialistic alien, it might be described as an uber-girly Madewell, or else a hyper-southern Anthropologie. "Cute" would not be construed as an insult; "bless your heart" most certainly would.
Draper James is filled with excited women long before Giffin is scheduled to appear. They sip prosecco and sweet tea and munch on miniature cupcakes from Sprinkles, a sponsor of Giffin's tour. For the price of admission, each guest has been given a copy of First Comes Love and a coupon for use at the store.
The ladies in attendance are uniformly well-turned-out, most clad in pretty summer dresses and with the sort of well-groomed hair and makeup that seems nothing short of miraculous in the muggy July heat. (A young woman who rushes in late, in scrubs, is an endearing exception.) While the crowd skews mid-twenties, there are several multigenerational groups who have made the trip to meet Giffin together; one such pair has traveled from Pennsylvania. "I got her into Something Borrowed, " explains the daughter, Lisa. "Now we read them all together." Another, Anna, has driven from Kentucky. The event ticket "was a birthday present from my husband," she says. "Although I hinted pretty hard."
First Comes Love is Giffin's ninth novel. After several years billing hours at a New York law firm, she moved to London to take a crack at novel-writing, and the rest, as they say, is chick-lit history. On the subject of that term, incidentally, the 44-year-old Giffin is pragmatic: "I don't care if they call it that," she says. "I just don't like it when the term is used dismissively."
When asked which of Giffin's books is her favorite, each reader has strong opinions, and many titles come up repeatedly. "Baby-Proof, " definitely, says a woman named Rebecca. "Something Blue, " adds her companion. Something Borrowed, the debut, is still beloved. "I remember when I first read it," says Elizabeth, from Virginia, "first I thought it wasn't really the kind of book I would like. I thought it was too much of a beach read. But then I called up my friend, and I said, 'You are not going to believe this. I'm reading a book and I am rooting for the other woman.' And you do not root for the other woman." (Her friend shakes her head vehemently.) "And I thought, If she can make me do that, I'm impressed."
Something Borrowed is the story of a young lawyer who falls into a conflicted affair with her glamorous best friend's fiancé. "I thought, What if you could flip that formula and make that character sympathetic?" says Giffin. "That would be interesting." The book's success — and that of its 2010 film adaptation — encouraged her to pursue other inversions of the traditional relationship themes. Baby-Proof explores the turmoil of a woman who doesn't want to be a mother. Love the One You're With takes on a protagonist's emotional infidelity. Where We Belong involves the complexities of adoption. In many of these cases, Giffin works in subtle portraits of class tensions and social milieus. And while details of the novels may mirror those of her own life — unhappy legal careers, an ambivalent move to Atlanta — the author is adamant that no character is autobiographical. (She does concede that the two sisters who make up the dueling narrators in First Comes Love contain elements of her and her own sister.)